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Liberalism: Is the tide turning?

June 1st, 2013 Posted in Liberal Democrats, Libertarians by

An exciting couple days for all us liberals out there. Not one, but two hat tips:

First, the good news that “we are not alone”. Liberalism is not just alive in the UK, it is positively thriving. A major feature in the Economist, of all places, states “Britain’s youth are not just more liberal than their elders. They are also more liberal than any previous generation“.

Young Britons, it turns out, are classical liberals. The Economist reports:

“…as well as prizing social freedom, they believe in low taxes, limited welfare and personal responsibility. In America they would be called libertarians.”

This totally uplifting piece goes on to say

““Every successive generation is less collectivist than the last,” says Ben Page of Ipsos MORI, a pollster. All age groups

Graph courtesy of YouGov/Economist

Graph courtesy of YouGov / Economist

are becoming more socially and economically liberal. But the young are ahead of the general trend. They have a more sceptical view of state transfers, even allowing for the general shift in attitudes”

And it isn’t just IPSOS MORI saying this. The same article reports

“Polling by YouGov shows that those aged 18 to 24 are also more likely than older people to consider social problems the responsibility of individuals rather than government. They are deficit hawks.  They care about the environment, but are also keen on commerce: more supportive of the privatisation of utilities, more likely to reject government attempts to ban branding on cigarette packets and more likely to agree that Tesco, Britain’s supermarket giant, “has only become so large by offering customers what they want”.”

Do go read the article in full to get a warm fuzzy feeling all over.

But what to do about this?

Second: Mark Littlewood (who get’s a mention in the above Economist item as will be noted by conspiracy theorists everywhere) seems to have the answer. Writing in the Times [paywall] on Friday he suggests “The Lib Dems should try being real liberals“. In his hard hitting comment piece Littlewood (former spin doctor of the party and LV founder and blogger) points out the all-too-obvious malaise within the party:

“There is no acute leadership crisis, just a general sense that they are sinking. It is near impossible to discern what their recovery strategy is. Mr Clegg and his close advisers encourage the party faithful to “hold your nerve”…. But that sounds more like psychotherapy than a plan.”

Front Cover of the Economist : June 1st 2013

Front Cover of The Economist : June 1st 2013

Well said. But, this isn’t just a piece pointing out the parlous state of the party right now, he has a sensible, practical solution. Here are the key bits:

“First, they (Lib Dems) need to stop doing and saying things that have little resonance outside their declining base of party activists.”

“Second, the Lib Dems need to take a leaf out the books of many of their sister parties on the Continent. Many European politicians rightly view them as rather an odd, mixed bag with a left-leaning social democratic agenda. Not very liberal at all, in other words.”

“…the Lib Dems often come across as no more coherent than a confederation of residents’ associations. Few voters understand any driving philosophy behind their policy, merely that it is “middle of the road”.

“The party does have a strong commitment to civil liberties hardwired into its DNA, but on lifestyle issues, such as smoking, drinking or reading magazines with airbrushed photos of female models, it can’t resist the urge to agitate for greater state intrusion and control.” [see a previous post on LV "Norman Lamb: Doh!" for more on that one].

“…this actually makes a strategy of being a small state, pro-business party even more attractive — mainly because most Lib Dem MPs find themselves in close fights with the Tories”.

“A consistent, clear, genuinely liberal narrative, in which the State plays less of a role in our lives, and individuals have greater freedom to keep their own money, run their own affairs and make their own choices does not guarantee electoral success. But it surely offers a much better prospect for the Lib Dems than anchoring their ship somewhere in the centre of the ocean, as they slowly slip beneath the waves.”

Whether the appearance of his comment piece in the Times on Friday is coincidence, or deliberately timed to coincide with the Economist report, only Littlewood will know. But taking those two articles together we see not only that there is a real, and growing appetite, for classical liberalism in the UK, but there is a compelling case that Lib Dems should not just be spectators to this upswing, but capitalise on it. Britain looks ready to embrace a real liberal party – but is the party ready to be it?  Here’s hoping so.

(PS Young liberals out there might like to find out more about Liberty League and Freedom Week by clicking on the links.)

 

3 Responses to “Liberalism: Is the tide turning?”

  1. Philip Walker Says:

    A friend of mine posted the Economist piece on Facebook and drew my attention to it. Though I wish! – wish! – wish! – it were true, and hate being the bearer of cold water (well, okay, maybe I don’t hate it); but it doesn’t ring so. Maybe there is a degree of north/south divide going on? Most of my peers (and I am at the to end of the Economist’s “young”) category seem no less keen on state-sponsored Free Stuff and meddling in business than my parents’ and grandparents’ generation. They are also every bit as unwilling to take responsibility in personal, social and economic matters (responsibility being a necessary corollary of freedom).


  2. Philip Walker Says:

    I would say, though, that the Lib Dems ought to make themselves the party of the consumer and the SME. Represent the consumer interest first, and fight the corner for Britain’s small businesses (which is an inherently anti-regulative position).

    You’d have a massive fight to get the Lib Dems to pitch their tent on that ground, and the party may not even recover. But as an electoral proposition it would be distinctive, attractive and coherent.


  3. Chris Says:

    Mark Littlewood’s piece highlights the lack of a coherent identity that bedevils the Lib Dems and suggests one way forward. Personally I would vote for and might even consider joining an organisation that was both socially and classically liberal.

    I don’t vote Liberal Democrat anymore because I view the party as predominantly socialist and I am not entirely sure which side of Labour it belongs in the political spectrum. You reference Norman Lamb in your post and I think it telling that he was defended here by Martin McKee who, in common with many in public health is of the far left. McKee co-authored one of the most illiberal, dishonest attacks on freedom of expression that I have had the misfortune to read so I am not sure that any true liberal should value his endorsement.

    I would love to support a party that shared my belief in civil liberties and equality before the law but which also recognized the value of human beings as individuals rather than treating them as lumpen masses to be controlled by an ever expanding state governed by a political elite. At the moment, I feel that there is no such party.

    I cannot say whether or not Littlewood is correct because it is a long time since anyone seriously tried to do what he is suggesting, but I do know that there are many voters in the UK who are tired of tribal politics and who reject ever increasing state interference in their lives. At present, many of them seem to be voting UKIP. A liberal alternative might just be a good idea.


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